Wednesday, July 29, 2009

58 Query Contest

"Refuge" is an 83,000 word women’s/mainstream novel about a man who must reconcile his adult life with an impulsive teenage decision. When shy Wes Darino is pressured by his parents to find a girlfriend for his impending graduation festivities he announces he is gay. It is a claim they cannot tolerate and Wes uses their rejection as an excuse to move out. For a decade he lives alone except for his four canine companions, training and exhibiting them at dog shows and obedience trials. When repeated attacks from an unknown source are made on his dogs and home the police recommend he find other accommodation for the duration of the investigation, so he takes refuge working at a remote northern fishing lodge. There he encounters new dangers as well as the unexpected possibility of romance. As he contends with both he learns that not all decisions are irrevocable, and who he is means more than who he was.

An optional section at the end of the book includes several of the protagonist's favorite wilderness-cooking recipes.

I am a member of the Federation of B.C. Writers and the Langley Writers' Guild and for the past ten years have been writing for various Canadian magazines. Two of my non-fiction pieces were shortlisted as finalists in recent Surrey International Conference writing contests. My experience working with purebred dogs and owning a dog show business, plus years of wilderness living provide both background information for the story and exposure to a potential audience.

I look forward to your response.

Warm regards,

[Contact Info]


A premonition would have helped — some kind of warning that death was within arm's reach. Then when I found the broken padlock I might have been better prepared for what happened next. But there was nothing. Of course there wasn’t. My life is never that simple.


Darcy’s whining reminds me of the three other dogs. As the geriatric member of our Doberman clan he has the privilege of sleeping in my bedroom but the garage doubles as a makeshift kennel for the others. Most mornings our usual routine is to let them out first thing. Instead, this morning I started a quick shovelling of the mounds of crusted wet snow on the back patio.

“Not yet, Darcy. I’ve gotta get rid of this before the others stampede around in it.”

In the dim pre-dawn light I ram the shovel into the heavy snow and force it ahead of me, pushing until the mass is piled into the back corner of the yard. That’s when I notice the back gate is standing slightly ajar.

“What the heck!” Not only is the gate open, but there are two different sets of tracks in the snow, one of footprints alongside another of tire treads, leading from the gate to the garage’s side door. And there on the concrete stair I find the discarded padlock.

“Ah, shit! Why didn’t the dogs--?” Suddenly I’m struggling to breathe. I remember the barking last night; remember ignoring it, thinking the dogs were complaining about a prowling coyote.


  1. This read more like a synopsis to me than a query letter with a good hook. Plus, there were several commas missing. That made me think there might be grammatical problems in the manuscript.

    I think there might have been too much backstory too. Maybe start with the attacks on his prized dogs?

  2. did not hook me. might consider taking less time to build up and jump into the stakes. give me a reason to care!

  3. Wasn't hooked. The tension of your story wasn't coming through with the writing. What are the dangers he faces at the lodge? Are they connected with the attacks on his dogs? My recommendation would be to raise the stakes in your query.

  4. Not hooked. I also thought it sounded like a synopsis. That first paragraph was way too long...and held nearly every plot point. Break it up a little and focus on providing sentences with punch.

  5. I'm confused really.Is he gay or not? Does he get a romance or not? Too many dogs and not enough human interest. He sounds like a bit of a weirdo loner, which isn't such an attractive proposition.

  6. Just a few thoughts:

    * You call this a women's novel, but it's about a gay man. And for some reason that stuck me from the first. I would remove the women's from your genre.

    * Your sample text is more compelling than the query. And I think that's because your query blurb is focused on the philosophy of the book instead of the story itself.

    * I would focus on the danger instead of the character growth arc. Up the intrigue and end your query blurb with some kind of cliffhanger that makes the agent desperate to read more.

  7. Not hooked. The intro paragraph isn't enticing enough. The character sounds interesting, though.

  8. I think that starting with the threat to the dogs would be better than with the backstory. I was also confused about the gay thing, is he or isn't it? I wasn't sure if this was going to be a women's fiction about a gay man who falls in love or a women's fiction novel about a man who falls in love?

    I wasn't hooked by the query at all, BUT when I read the story, than I was. My heart actually did a little jump and I was very anxious to find out what happened next. Being a dog trainer/owner myself, I had a shock of fear that something had happened to the dogs and was very anxious to turn the next page.

    So not hooked by the query but hooked by the actual story.

  9. I wasn't hooked. The first paragraph felt too much like a summary. And the second paragraph of "an optional section" really threw me.

  10. Not hooked. First paragraph is strangely soulless. It should have more of a voice, more pop. As it is, it's very synopsis-y. The idea sounds interesting though.

  11. I need more of a hook in the first paragraph of the query. It didn't grab me.

    With a hook this may have promise.

  12. I'm not really hooked by the premise... as much as I really like the dog shows (I train and show dogs too).

    The snippet is intriguing though. :]

  13. I agree with everyone else - I was not hooked by the letter itself. With the backstory I thought you were setting up a comedy of errors, he tells his parents he's gay and they want... well, from the genre you listed I thought Rom Com, but the rest of the paragraph made it read like suspense with MAYBE romantic elements. I was intrigued by the opening lines of the story, and I wanted to know what happened to the dogs.

  14. Not hooked. Sorry. I'm not certain if the problem the potagonist is facing is because he's gay or the fact that his dogs have been killed. It needs more focus on the impending issue, in my opinon.

  15. Sorry, not hooked. Couldn't quite place where the focus of this story was going

  16. I decided to act like some agents, who are very busy, and make a partial form letter and then personalize it. I’m in this contest because I have difficulties writing queries, so my simple critique has to be taken with a grain of salt. I’m not going to address grammar or style, because, usually the agents don’t and you know who you are. I know what I like and am not sure of, so . . . I'm hooked by your query, intriqued and the same goes for your 250...I'd ask for more.

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  18. Ok I am just going to write this for all entries---Good job to you all!
    Now for my "lay-lie-lying" snarky moment; I lost count when I ran out of toes and fingers, but why are so many of you writing or texting a comment stating you didn't like the hook or it didn't grab you, but this isn't your favorite genre or style of book? If it isn't, then do not comment, seriously.
    I seriously doubt someone on here, who busted their butt for two years to write a YA fiction will be sending it to a Non-fiction history agent right? I didn't enter this time so no I am not upset, but I as a writer, I love reading useful information or critiques from my fellow writers/authors but do not understand why 70% of the entries were clouded with someone stating an opinion about a genre they did not like in the first place. Judge them on there content, not your view of the style you like. Is it just me seeing this? Still love everyone!

  19. I thought the first line of the query was a little- off, awkward to read, but I was interested in the story, so I read the first page.

    The first sentence of the second paragraph made me stop and say, what? At first i thought you meant the sound made you think of 3 other dogs you had known. Then I still thought-what 3 other dogs?

    Its a good premise, a good beginning scene, but I don't know if an agent would keep reading to figure that out.

  20. It seems to me that the crux of your story is him moving to the wilderness. But there's a lot of backstory in front of that, and not much elaboration on the conflict. That, plus a lack of real voice in the query, leaves me not hooked.

  21. I agree with everything everyone's said about lack of hook, lack of stakes, and lack of voice. The one thing I would add (and this has more to do with the story itself than the query) is that the initial conflict seems a bit unbelievable. His whole life is rerouted because his parents want him to bring a girlfriend to a graduation party? I have a hard time imagining that.

  22. Not hooked - but maybe could be. I couldn't tell if he was gay, or if that is up in the air, and if the romance was then with a man or a woman. If it's a romance between two men, it isn't really women's lit, I wouldn't think. And, if he isn't gay, why would he move out in a huff? It just didn't make sense as a query.

    I'd start the query with him showing his dogs and the dogs being attacked and bill it as suspense or romantic suspense. The gay bit and moving out as a teenager doesn't seem central to the real conflict.

  23. Not hooked, because I didn't understand whether he *is* gay or just is shy and lied about it to be alone? Very different book in both cases. Plus is the book about what happened then, what happens now? Clarity would help.

    In the text, I suggest (as strongly as I can...) that you remove the little part before the asterisk. Adds nothing other than make the character appear whiny before there's evidence for it.

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  25. I liked that your query establishes you as an expert in the subject matter. That definitely would be telling that the detail of your story will be spot on and that you may have some ties that can help you promote the book.

    With that said, and I am coming to this comment late in the game, I agree with a lot of what was said. I really got lost in your first paragraph. It was a "this happened, then that happened, and this happened too. And this may happen."

    I'd tighten it up, maybe start with "When repeated attacks are made on his dog..." that's kind of compelling, but weave in what you need to. It seems like your focus is more on his adult life. But at any rate, the gay announcement went on too long- too very wordy sentences. "Impending graduation" for example sounds like something bad is coming. You could use that real estate more wisely I think.

    I am tired at the moment, but something like, "After announcing he wasn't bringing a girlfriend to his graduation party -- because he was gay- Wes left his disapproving parents and headed to the mountains. For ten years he lived in peace, training his Doberman clan... yada, yada... until...

    I don't think you need to say "from an unknown source" as "repeated attacks" works just fine. Maybe, "When repeated attacks are made on his home and dogs, he takes refuge at a remote fishing lodge..." then introduce romance and new dangers, and I'd do what someone else said, and take out the life's questions part.

    I'm rambling..

    But I liked your first 250, except for before *. Get right into the story. It takes away the suspense you build later.

    I don't think this query would win over an agent, but your story may. With some tweaking, this can be good.

  26. Forgive the typos. Staying up until 3am is not the best thing to do. :) Just noticed I used too and too back to back. Second one should have been the number. My fingers have a mind of their own.

  27. Great query. I also liked your first 25 words. You have a natural voice and the subject seems new and different.

  28. I'm late enough not to have much new... Sorry. I do want to add another vote to the, "I"m confused..." tally though. The letter didn't give me any real idea what was going on and I have no clue how it could be women's fiction... Though I am intrigued by the dogs and your background for that.

    The opening paragraph doesn't really work for more either. After that, I really liked the sample though. It's well written and left me whimpering, "Are the dogs alright?"

  29. Not hooked. The dialoge didn't grab me either.

  30. The query leaves me with many questions, and not really the kind that make me want to read on. I probably would, for a little while, to see what's going on, but if I had a stack of queries to go through, this one would not lead to further reading. Was Wes' impulsive decision telling his parents he was gay? If so, was he really gay or just saying that to get out of the house? While these are questions that would probably be answered in the story, they aren't pulling me to read it. Also, the query makes the dogs very important then mentions romance as on offhand remark. That may be how the story is set, and if so then the query does a great job of showing that. But if the romance is important to the story, I don't think the query did it justice.

    The 250 words were well written, and the first snippet left me wanting to read more. Premonitions are mentioned immediately, making me wonder if they are a part of the character or simply a figure of speech. I do like how you get straight into the action instead of making us wait. If I hadn't read the query and just had the 250 to go on, I would want to read more, at least for a little while.

  31. I'm confused about whether Wes is gay too. Did he say that to get his parents off his back, or is he gay? Also, you're covering an awful lot of ground in your query. Is the novel mainly about announcement to his parents, the attacks or the new dangers at the fishing lodge? I would spend most of the query concentrating on the main point, then have a line or two about the rest as background.

  32. Many, many thanks to everyone for your comments. Hearing similar concerns and suggestions from several of you is a big help to me as I return to the revisions on this one.

    If it helps to know it, no, Wes isn't really gay. Bron is correct: as a shy and confused teenager that was the straw he grasped as a reason not to have to approach a girl. It was growing tensions precipitated by that outburst that eventually pushed him away from home. And the dogs in the story play a bigger role than the romance. This is a mystery, not a romance. Just so you know. ;)

    I think my query needs *way* more work than the actual story, so I'm off to make a fresh start on it. Thanks again everyone!

  33. Glad to see our comments helped, and at least rewriting the query will be easier than the entire story!

  34. Young Adult WriterAugust 1, 2009 at 8:49 AM

    I was confused. It says women's fiction, but turns out to be about a gay man. Suggest changing genres and tightening your hook.

    Good idea, though!


  35. Book titles are either italicized, < u>underlined< /u>, or ALL CAPS. Quotes around the title are for short stories.

    The very first sentence says this is a women's fiction about a man. That...seems off.

    The plot simply doesn't interest me. I'm not getting a sense of the stakes or motivations. What does Wes want? I know what his family wants, but nothing from him. I'm also not getting a sense of what this story is *about*.

    There's nothing wrong with the writing in the sample page, but it isn't drawing me in. Sorry, not hooked.